Thursday, January 28, 2021

Get Started Collaborating on Projects Using Google Chat Rooms


Not too long ago, Google unveiled a new feature to Google Chat called Rooms. When I first saw it, I really didn't see the point. I couldn't imagine why I would ever use it. It appeared, at first glance, as a glorified group chat. After experimenting with it for some projects, it has become a game changer for collaboration. Rooms integration into the Gmail interface has really made Gmail a one-stop shop for productivity. 

You may be wondering, as I did, when will you ever use it? If you are a classroom teacher, its great for the work done within a PLC. If you are a coach, it's a great place to collaborate with fellow coaches on PD projects. If you are an administrator, Rooms is great for facilitating collaboration on staff meetings with leadership teams. In a nutshell, if you need to collaborate on a project, Rooms is an amazing productivity tool.

Rooms allows you to invite stakeholders who can hold threaded discussions, share files easily, assign tasks and more. The sharing of files is much easier than finding the file in Drive and sharing from there. If you add a file to thread in Rooms, with only a few clicks, all members of the Room can have access to the file. In addition, each post within a thread gives you the option to call a video meeting with Google Meet. When threads are updated with new posts, pop up notifications appear as a Chat message in Gmail. This makes it easy to stay on top of news regarding the project. If there are threads within a Room that don't concern you, you can unfollow it and not get notified when it is updated.

Get started in Gmail by clicking the little arrow next to Rooms. Depending on your settings, this may be on the left or right side of your screen. This will show all the Rooms you've created or are a part of.

To start a room, click the plus button to the right of Rooms.

In the menu that appears, click Create room.

A small window will appear. Give your room a title in the first box. Below, add people's names/email addresses. Below there, you have two options. One is to organize the "conversations" into threads. This is something I highly recommend you do. The other option is whether or not to allow people outside your district's domain to be able to join. This is up to you. If working with county level, state level or consultants, you will want to check this box.

Once created, this is what it looks like when you open the Room in Gmail. You can go to the dedicated Google Chat website,, to access Rooms if you want. When your Room is brand new, you can get started by clicking the New thread button at the bottom of the page.

When starting a new thread, my recommendation is make the first post the title. At this time, we don't have the option to give custom titles to threads. That would be very useful. Until that time comes, make your first post in a thread the "title". This is helpful for organizing your room. In the sample below, the thread was titled 3rd Quarter Common Formative Assessments.

Members of the room click Reply to initiate a conversation, share links, share files or start a video call with Google Meet. Those buttons are to the right of the Reply bar circled below.

If you click the Google Drive button, circled above, it will open a menu where you search your Drive and add files to the thread.

When you use Rooms in Gmail, not the Google Chat site, and you open a shared file, it opens right within Gmail. You can see real time edits from collaborators and edit the file yourself. No having to have extra tabs open. This is making Gmail more of a one stop shop. 

When you post the file to thread, you'll be prompted to give permissions to the members of the Room. This doesn't seem like much, but it can be huge time saver. Before Rooms, you'd have to find the file in Drive, click Share and type in all the names of those with whom you wanted to share. This is much faster. In addition, collaborators don't have to go looking for old emails or the Shared with me folder. All they have to do is open the Room to access the file.

If you were to click the Google Meet icon, what you see below is what it would look like in the thread. This is useful for generating Google Meet links for instant or future meetings.

At the top of each room, you see three tabs. The default one is Chat. Next to it you will see Files and Tasks. When you click the Files tab, you'll see a list of all the files shared throughout different threads within the Room. 

In the Tasks tab, you can create Tasks for room members. Do so by clicking Add room task.

When creating a task, you can set a due date/time and assign it to a room member. To whomever it is assigned will see it appear in their Google Tasks list on the Gmail side panel.

When typing or replying in a thread, you can direct comment/message room members. You do this by typing the "@" symbol and the person's name. This is good for reminding collaborators of action items that need a response.

Since I started using Google Chat Rooms in late November 2020, my productivity and ability to collaborate has increased tremendously. Chat Rooms has really helped transform Gmail into a one-stop shop for much of the work I do daily. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Save Time During Synchronous Lessons: Paste Game Links in Chat


In distance learning, time is a valuable commodity. Some of my go-to synchronous activities include Quizlet Live, Quizizz Live Quiz and Quizlet Lesson. When you initiate any of these three activities, a game code is generated. Students must go to the game website and enter the code to join. That process isn't very difficult, but, in many situations, students take up to 3-4 minutes to join. 3-4 minutes during a 50-60 minute class period is a long time. Any way we can expedite the process is very helpful. 

Hiding in plain sight, the entire time, with all three of these activities, are game links. On the page you display for students to see the game code, you will see buttons to copy a game link. Instead of waiting for kids to navigate to the game website and enter the code, I simply paste the game link in the chat in either Zoom or Google Meet. Having kids click the link in the chat cuts the "game joining" time to less than a minute. Students have personally told me how much easier and faster it is to join these activities using this method. The screenshots below show how to generate the game links for each of the aforementioned activities.

Quizlet Live

To start, open the studyset and click Live.

Quizlet Live looks a little different in distance learning. You could set it up for groups to play in breakout rooms, but that would take a ton of setup on your part.  Due to the difficulties presented by distance learning, you will likely want to choose Individuals instead of Random Teams. This allows every student to compete solo.

Choose your mode of play. You can choose for students to match the definition to the term or the other way around. Sometimes it's good to do a few rounds of both.

When you arrive at the page that shows the game code, you'll see a Copy game link button at the bottom. 

When you click the button, you'll see a "Copied!" pop up notification at the bottom of the screen. This means the game link is copied to your clipboard.

Go to the chat in Zoom or Google Meet and paste the link. All students have to do is click the link in the chat and they are able to join the game in seconds rather than having to open a new tab, find the site and enter a code.

Quizizz Live Quiz

Start by opening a quiz in Quizizz. Click Start a live quiz and choose Classic.

Click Continue.

When you arrive on the page that displays the game code, click  the "or share via" button. This will open a pop up window with the game link.

In the pop up window, click Copy link. This will put it on your computer's clipboard. 

Head over to chat in Zoom or Google Meet and paste the game link. Like with Quizlet Live, all they have to do is click and they're in the game.

Quizizz Lesson

Similar to Quizizz Live Quiz, open your Quizizz Lesson and click Present.

When you see the game code, look to the top right of the screen and click Share a link.

In the pop up window, click copy link.

Just like with Quizlet Live and Quizizz Live Quiz, paste the game link into the chat of Zoom or Google Meet.

The process for each of these activities is extremely similar and not difficult at all. Pasting game links in the chat instead of having kids join with codes saves valuable class time in distance learning synchronous lessons. What apps and games do you love to use during synchronous lessons that similar functions to those above?

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Get Started with YouTube Studio


Distance learning has gotten more teachers posting lesson videos on YouTube than ever before. As you become a creator of YouTube content, the YouTube Studio helps you manage your videos, edit them and more. The Studio is something that often gets overlooked, but once you learn of it, it becomes a go-to tool in your edu-toolbox. If you are looking to change the visibility of a video or add to a new playlist or make the video "safe for kids", YouTube Studio is your one-stop shop. 

Get started accessing YouTube Studio by clicking your profile picture in the top right corner of YouTube. In the dropdown menu, click YouTube Studio.

When the Studio opens, you'll see Channel dashboard and a menu on the left side of the screen. To manage your videos, on the left side menu, click Content. 

After clicking Content, you'll see a list of the videos you have posted to YouTube. The most recent video appears at the top. To edit the details of any video, click on the video thumbnail or hover your mouse over it and click the "pencil" button to edit.

There are a variety of tools and options available to you after opening a video. The first thing you will see is Video details. Here you are able to edit the video Title and add/edit a Description of the video.

As you scroll down, you will have a button where you can add the video to one or more Playlists. If you want to change the Playlist, this is the place to do it. In the Audience section, you can choose whether or not to make the video "for kids". If you set it as made for kids, there will be no targeted ads. This is something you may want to enable when posting a lesson video that your students will view. 

To the right of the page, when editing a video, you will see a link to your video with a copy button for easy sharing of the video. You can change the Visibility to either Private, Unlisted or Public. Private means that only you can view the video. Unlisted means only people who have the link can view. This also means nobody can search for the video and find it. Public means anyone can search and find it. I recommend Unlisted to maintain a level of control over the privacy of your lesson videos. In the past, I made my lessons Public and I had to deal with wannabe academics who tried to criticize the content of my videos. If you don't want to deal with that, set it as Unlisted. 

When you hover your cursor over a video, the menu you see below will appear. From left to right, you have buttons to edit, see video statistics, view comments left by viewers, play the video on YouTube and more options. 

The three dots button gives you more options. If you need to delete the video for any reason, that option is found here. If you want to view the video offline, the option to download your video is also here. Any video you post to YouTube can be downloaded to your device.

These are just some of the basics of YouTube Studio. There is much, much more to it. Click here to read a blog post about using the YouTube Studio to blur portions of the screen in the video. How will you use YouTube Studio? 

Filter YouTube Search for Shorter Videos

Distance learning schedules are set so you see your students only a couple times per week. With time at a premium, maximizing time is essential. Before the pandemic, when we saw students more often, and we wanted to use an instructional video from YouTube, we didn't have to think too much about the length of the video. Nowadays, finding a solid video that fits into our time constraints is hugely important. To aid in that enterprise, use the Filter tool in YouTube to find videos that are 4 minutes or less. 

Start by entering a query in the YouTube search bar and clicking the search button.

When the search results appear, you'll see that the length of the videos vary. In the example below, you see one for 13 minutes and another for over an hour. The 13 minute video may not be feasible for a synchronous lesson, and the hour long video definitely wouldn't work. Click the Filter button change the search results to show shorter videos.

After clicking the Filter button, you'll see a variety of ways in which to filter your search. Under the Duration category, click Short (< 4 minutes). This will filter your search to only show results that are videos 4 minutes in length or less. 

After setting the filter, you'll notice that each video in the results are less than 4 minutes in length.

In addition to time constraints of synchronous lessons, students today prefer videos that get to the point. Documentaries that those with a degree or credential in that subject may present great information, but cause students to lose interest quickly. Oftentimes, shorter videos present the same information, but in a quicker, more engaging format for today's students.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Quickly Message Students Who Have Not Turned In An Assignment in Google Classroom


Students not turning in work is an issue that has been exacerbated by distance learning. Holding kids accountable and helping remind them of missing work is easier said than done. You may not have noticed, but Google Classroom has a feature that helps you expedite the process of contacting students who have not turned in an assignment. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can draft an email to students who have not turned in a specific assignment.

Start by opening an assignment in Google Classroom. You will see which students still have it Assigned. These students are the ones who have not yet turned it in. 

To contact specifically the students who have not turned in the assignment, click the checkbox next to where it says Assigned. This will select all of those students. Then click the email button next to Return. This will open a new tab in Chrome with Gmail.

The subject line will be pre-populated with the assignment title. The BCC line will have all the names of students who have not yet turned in the assignment. All you have to do is add the body of the message and click send.